I Forget To Listen To Music, But When I Turn It On, My Heart Sings
These days, I forget to listen to music. In fact, I was going to write this article listening to music and forgot to turn it on until I wrote that line. Hang on…
Okay, better. I’ve got my Spotify “Liked” list going. We’re starting with Sublime’s “Santeria.” It’s upbeat and fun to sing, especially the opening lyrics about frittering away a million bucks:
This song inspires the car dancer in me.
I’ll annotate a list of songs I listen to as I write this so you get an idea of my possibly-unique taste in music.
I was born in 1978 and appreciate a wide range of music reflective of my generation. I’m a GenXer/Xenniel who went from a boombox to a Walkman to a CD player in the span of my childhood. I recorded songs off the radio, made mix-tapes, and swooned when I received them. I knew how to fix cassette tape that was spun out of place and spent hours listening to the radio, hoping they’d play a favorite song. The sheer happiness of finally hearing the song I wanted so badly to hear is difficult to explain to my kids, who have always had all music predilections met on demand.
When I was Ceci’s age, New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli were on the pop charts. I had a tape of Bruce Springsteen’s album “Born in the USA.” I crushed on his skinny butt in blue jeans and memorized the lyrics on the cassette insert. I also crushed on Milli Vanilli and was infuriated when I learned they’d been lip-syncing. Madonna was big on MTV. It was a good time to be coming up through the music scene.
From my parent’s influence of The Beatles, The Eagles, Elvis Presley, and other oldies bands to the new pop to rap to metal to grunge, I listened to a little bit of a lot. These records were spinning and I was singing, watching Beatles Movies, The Monkees TV show, and singing along to Michael Jackson. Music was a huge part of my life.
That was then, this is now.
My ten-year-old daughter, Ceci, finally went back to in-person school a couple of weeks ago. It had been almost a year. Before COVID changed all of our lives, I drove a lot. I commuted to work, picked up Ceci and my son, Jaden, from school, and drove Ceci to gymnastics about 30 minutes away, two to three times per week. That’s a lot of time in the car. So, we played music.
If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine (Yeah, I’m goals)
I was born like this, don’t even gotta try (Now you know)
I’m like chardonnay, get better over time (So you know)
Heard you say I’m not the baddest, bitch, you lie (Haha) — Lizzo
We listened to a lot of Lizzo, Taylor Swift, and pop songs on the radio. They were easy and fun to sing along with. Ceci developed opinions about what she liked and why. She had fun cussing to Lizzo and I had fun letting her.
1980s/1990s and 2020/2021
When I was her age, my dad drove me around and sang to the radio. I specifically remember singing “American Pie” by Don McLean with him and his off-key voice. I can sing in tune if I try really, really hard — some of the time — but not always. I think that’s one reason I like car singing. If I’m by myself, there’s no one to critique my voice. If I’m singing with people who don’t mind my off-keyness and incomplete memory of lyrics, it’s fun to sing with people in the car. As I bonded with my dad, Ceci and I are now bonding over music.
I take Ceci to school in the morning and we’re curating a playlist specifically for this trip. We argue a lot and that’s fun. She knows a lot of my “old” music from watching Steve Terreberry on YouTube, who says his “videos are generally on the topics of guitar, comedy, metal music and everything in between.” When I mentioned Metallica, I was surprised Ceci knew who I was talking about. Steve T is why. When I said, “It’s too early for Metallica,” Ceci quipped back, “It is not!” We added “Ride the Lightning” to our list.
Ceci has explained to me she likes more musical variation in songs than I tend to like. She teases me for liking simple songs with only “two chords.” She talks about singers who have strong voices, use chest voices, and what range they have. She is pretty good at identifying which instruments are being used in songs.
She recently picked up her neglected kid’s guitar, found the Yousicians App, and started teaching herself to play and practice vocals. She tried to teach me and explain the chords. What she picks up quickly, I find challenging to learn. When I asked her if there’s an app for singing lessons, she guided me to the Yousicians app, and I tried it out. We’ve come a long way from in-person voice lessons. I look at my phone screen and sing and see a visual of if I’m on key or not. I like it.
We’ve discussed P!nk, Madonna, Katy Perry, Demi Lavato, Britney Spears, Adelle, Billie Eilish, and many more women in music. We agree that Adele has impressive range and P!nk’s voice is lower than most female rockstars. I googled it. She’s a mezzo-soprano.
Raise Your Glass
Right, right, turn off the lights
We’re gonna lose our minds tonight
What’s the deal, yo?
I love when it’s all too much
5 a.m. turn the radio up
Where’s the rock ‘n roll? — Pink
Rolling in the Deep
There’s a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch, it’s bringing me out the dark — Adele
After drop-off, I take my fifteen-minute drive home to continue singing with the music, hamming it up, and grinning. It makes my heart happy. I figure if someone sees me goofing off and singing my lungs out, it just might put a smile on their face. Share the love.
Ceci teases me when I boast about seeing Kriss Kross in concert when I was just a couple of years older than her. “What was the big deal about Kriss Kross, Mom?” How do I explain it was different and cool that they wore their pants backward and they were a fun boy-band to have a crush on? She doesn’t get it. To her, I’m ancient and the music is, too. We have a fake fight and end in a mutual eye-rolling truce.
I moved to Oakland, California in the early 1990s to live with my dad and step-mom. I spent many hours in my room playing music on the brand new CD player they gifted me. I cherished the few CDs I had. I’m pretty sure I had Boyz II Men and TLC. I also brought Garth Brooks along with me but knew better than to tell any of my friends. Listening to Garth was my guilty pleasure and made me feel like I was back home in Oklahoma for a few moments, even though I barely listened to country music there.
My brief moment of musical coolness happened when my social studies teacher invited a couple of other kids and me to go with her to watch Kriss Kross play a concert. I don’t remember if I wore my pants backward. I do remember it was a good time.
In 1994, I was back in Oklahoma living with my mom. I was a 10th grader and Soul Asylum’s song “Runaway Train” was a Billboard chart-topper in 1993. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam was released in 1992 and peaked on the Billboard chart in 1995. I was a stagehand for a play and one of the boys who was a stagehand with me was named Jeremy — and he smelled so good. I had such a big crush on him. I believe he was a grade lower than me, which I thought was scandalous. Nothing ever happened between us, but I loved the song “Jeremy,” and every time it played my heart would flutter faster. I realized the ability of music to spark romantic feelings and emotional connections.
When I was in high school, I loved driving around town and singing my heart out. I’d be by myself, around 16, 17, 18 years old. I loved oldies. I graduated from high school in 1996 and in the late 90s, my friends were listening to Green Day, The Sex Pistols, and Weezer. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and the 1950s radio station on our radio in the car, KOMA FM. I loved singing. The thing is, it takes a lot of effort for me to sing on key. I can get there sometimes for parts of the song, but I’m not a very good singer.
When I was a kid, I asked my mom for singing lessons. My music teacher told me I was really good at harmonizing in the first grade. I came back in second grade and on the first day of class, she said, “What happened to your voice?” I lost complete confidence in my singing ability and have had trouble singing in key ever since.
I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) and that’s what happened. I know that’s kind of a pivotal point in the singing thing. We’re all human and I don’t blame my teacher for my off-key singing. I wish she hadn’t said it, but I may still have ended up singing off-key. Maybe it had to do with my lack of self-esteem when I came back. I don’t know.
I would drive around town and belt songs out like “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, “Graceland” and “Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon, a Sex Pistols song I don’t remember the name of, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan, and “City Song” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes, when I’d feel extra sultry and really craved connection outside of my life, outside of my childhood — wanting to be an adult and grow up, I would make eye contact from the driver’s seat to other drivers while I was singing.
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine
I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government
The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off
Look out kid, it’s somethin’ you did
God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again — Bob Dylan
I’d stare at people who were driving their cars, singing my head off, and smiling at them. They’d often smile back. I’d ham it up and belt it out. I loved that connection. Every once in a while, I’d run into someone who’d say, “Hey, you’re the girl I saw singing in your car. I’d love to hear you sing. It looks like you really enjoy that.” I knew that they’d be disappointed when they heard my singing voice, but it made me smile anyway. I’d pretend like I was a great singer and grin back at them.
1996–2002 / 2003–2006
In college, my friends and I drove to shows: Luna, Beck, The Pixies, Ween, Bo Didley, and The Sea and Cake. It was a fun adventure, once to Tulsa, mostly to Dallas, sometimes to OKC.
In our early twenties, my best friend and I took a road trip to New Mexico. We smoked joints and listened to Pink Floyd in the starry mountainous night— it was the first time I felt my mind slow down and really hear the music. I felt like I’d been let in on some big secret that all my musician friends knew — most of my friends at the time played music. I curled up in the passenger seat, closed my eyes, and swam in the music.
I went to college at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. I saw many small shows from local bands there and enjoyed the vibe. I frequented GrooveFest and a basement strip mall venue that hosted shows. The hippie restaurant Lovelight ran dance nights. I’d go and try to lose my inhibition while dancing under strobe lights.
My husband David and I have seen some great shows: Bob Dylan, The Tallest Man, Lucinda Williams, Thao Nguyen, Neko Case, and John Mooreland, to name a few — mostly at the famous Tulsa venue Cain’s Ballroom.
It’s a chance for us to bond without talking, to share body language, and our love for music. After having kids, it’s a chance for a getaway. A date night where we let loose and move our bodies to the beat, arms around each other, beer in hand, feeling the vibrations of the music from the wooden dance floor and soaking up the energy of show crowds.
X-Ambassador’s and K-Flay’s song “Zen” is on our current car riding list. It’s a perfect pandemic song. Now that it feels like we’re starting to make it through to the other side, I feel happier — less despondent and frustrated when I sing it.
Give me groceries and booze, give me Facetime with my friends
Give me intravenous news, little drips of CNN
Give me meditation apps, text me pictures of your dog
Just give me life, give me peace, give me noise — X-Ambassadors
Halfway through this article, I quit listening to the music. I took a break and when I came back to it, I wrote in silence. Incorporating music into my life really can be a struggle. I've noticed, though, that when I have music quietly playing in the background when I’m writing, it usually helps loosen me up and focus on my words. I put the playlist back on to revise and my focus leveled up immediately.
I’m returning to music. On my most recent revision of my memoir, I’m weaving song lyrics into every chapter. They convey emotion and feeling and inspire thought. Listening to music is a lifelong journey that I’m happy to be traveling on.
“Get Lucky” (feat Pharrel Williams & Nile Rodgers) Radio Edit
“Wild World” Yusuf/Cat Stevens
“Going to California” Led Zeppelin
“American Pie” Don Mclean
“Fear’s What You Make It” My Friend’s Band
“I Wanna Be Sedated” Ramones
“All Right Now” Queen + Paul Rodgers
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen
“Fat Bottomed Girls” Queen
“I’m on Fire” Bruce Springsteen
“Architect” Manchester Orchestra, Frightened Rabbit
“Dear God” Midge Ure
“Caution” The Killers
“A Little Wicked” Valerie Broussard
“Deep Red Balls” Neko Case
“Queen Bee” Taj Mahal
Thank you for reading! Here’s another music article if you’d like to slip farther down the rabbit hole: